Autumn Bridge

Written by Takashi Matsuoka
Review by Adelaida Lower

Takashi Matsuoka’s second novel takes us back to Japan, returning to the characters of his first novel, Cloud of Sparrows. Here is Emily Gibson, the American missionary, Lord Gengi of the Okumichi clan, an advocate for the opening of Japan, and many of the other characters of Matsuoka’s first novel.

But Autumn Bridge goes further. The novel opens in 1311, as the princess witch, Shizuka, Gengi’s ancestress, is surrounded by enemies. Matsuoka, a brave writer, jumps back and forth in time from Shizuka’s life to Gengi’s, throwing storylines left and right. In Autumn Bridge, characters are “passengers in their own bodies,” memories are reshaped, there is sorcery, mysteries, ghosts, various states of consciousness, and, above all, prophecy, a gift and curse to generations of the Okumichi clan. Everyone has secrets, everyone pretends. At the same time, Matsuoka again sets out to explore the meaning of modernization disparaging the samurai, as “adherents of a vicious, mindless cult of death worship.”

He has a knack for writing about magic and the supernatural: “the old, secret truths…known by witches…whose spirits rode the storm, the wild herds above.” He is entirely convincing when describing Lady Shizuka’s struggles to figure out what is real and unreal. Other characters however, escape him. Readers may wonder what kind of nineteenth century missionary would accept living under the roof of a man to whom she is attracted, and then spend her days translating a witch’s spells and incantations.